These Herbs are All Wet

Enjoy the taste sensations of these water-loving herbs.

| December/January 2005

  • Cattails are easy to grow at the edge of a pond and are edible, too.
    David Cavagnaro
  • These four-leaf water clovers close at night and are delicious with the dipping sauce recipes below.
    David Cavagnaro
  • Add water-loving Vietnamese cilantro to Asian dishes or salsas.
    David Cavagnaro

Those beautiful plants in your water garden may be more than just another pretty face. Many of these plants we consider strictly decorative have been grown and gathered for centuries as food in their native land. You can do the same in your own backyard. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a pond or stream on your property, a boggy area where water collects, or a fountain you’ve added, you’ll find many aquatic or semiaquatic plants that are not only attractive but also edible — and even delicious.

Most common water garden plants found in nurseries are tropical, originally coming from areas of the world where water is abundant. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, India, China and the Amazon region have all contributed plants to the assortment now found in U.S. nurseries.

Before you begin to plant or harvest, please note a couple of important caveats: Socrates killed himself by drinking hemlock tea — a potent water plant. He knew what he was drinking, but you might not know what you’re harvesting. Be very certain what plant you’re actually dealing with before anyone takes the first bite. Also, don’t harvest plants out of bodies of water that have been chemically treated or that are fed by runoff from chemically treated or fertilized yards.

With those warnings firmly in mind, here are some suggestions for tasty edible water plants you could grow in your own water garden.

Some plants, such as watercress, float in the water; some, such as lemongrass, grow along the edges in bogs. Still others, such as water lilies, grow in deeper water with only their leaves above the surface. Wherever in the water they grow, they can add grace to the landscape and flavor to the palate.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a familiar herb grown in bogs, wet garden soil and along the edges of shallow water gardens. It also grows well in ordinary, damp soil. This tasty herb grows up to 4 feet high and equally as wide and is known for the fleshy base of the grass stalks that grow on top of the ground. The bulbs (not really bulbs at all, but fleshy bases to the clumps of grass) are harvested and the leaves removed for use in various Asian dishes.

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